Grayson County Fiddlers’ Convention 2015


Two days of intermittent thunderstorms, rain and high winds didn’t chase away all the competitors — or spectators — at the 2015 Grayson County Fiddlers’ Convention in Elk Creek… although the Friday night storm winds did play havoc with the canopies and awnings that campers use to create sunshaded jam-session spaces.

A bunch of the tangled canopy frameworks were thrown together afterward, looking a lot like a multi-legged lunar lander or Mars rover, or some high-tech jackstraws.

Those who held on into Saturday afternoon — and looked away from the stage — did get treated to a broad double rainbow, only a small portion of which fits this cellphone image.


Posted in 2015, community, Music

Ten days to summer

Feels like summer here with 90 degree days, but it isn’t officially until the 21st. I’m already in “not getting everything done I intended to today” mode, but I did remember to look out the window at the right time.


Posted in photography, summer, weather

Back to school again

After a semester or two off, I’ve enrolled in another Coursera “MOOC” (Massively Open Online Class)…

No new Wesleyan University listings for more film history classes to pick-up where I left off with the last two, alas…

But I’ve had this nagging interest in the Python programming language for years too, so I’ve decided to give Coursera’s “Programming for Everybody (Python)” online class a try.

It’s based on Professor Charles Severance’s University of Michigan class, which already has a wealth of materials online here:

The Coursera version is free, using that system’s online video lectures, downloadable files, and discussion forums… as well as a free text book (available in a stunning array of ebook formats, including a 244-page PDF file), some YouTube videos, slideshows on Google Drive, and a Facebook page.

Actually, I signed up months ago and forgot to note on my calendar that it started today, then jumped in and spent hours at the computer exploring all that material… so I’m writing this in part to explain to some friends why I stood them up for the Monday night bluegrass jam session. Sigh. Maybe with Python I can write myself a better reminder-system. Ha!

Wish me luck! This is about my fifth “introduction to programming” over the years, starting with a lunch-hour class in the BASIC language on Wesleyan University’s DEC-10 mainframe in 1980, then Russ Walter’s introduction to microcomputer BASIC in 1983, a Python course a few years later, and even a taste of LISP programming for cognitive science classes. And on my own I’ve picked up just enough javascript to convince myself not to use it until I know what I’m doing.

But Python was the basis for the Django Web programming framework that I’ve watched being used to build newspaper websites, shape interactive Web apps that contributed to public access to information, and build a fascinating (and profitable) career or two… not that I plan to do any of those things myself.

I wonder if “Python voyeur” could be a line on my resume?

Posted in Computers, coursera, MOOCs, programming

Band of Brothers

two American soldiers in World War II

For Memorial Day weekend… some sketchy family history — especially for the cousins I’m connected to on Facebook, including grandchildren of the soldier on the right.

These two very handsome guys in uniform are my dad, Bob, on the left, and his brother, Lester. I think it was taken in 1943 or ’44. My dad had been in training in Kansas through the last half of 1942. At the time of his discharge in 1945, he was part of the 15th Army Air Force, which had been based mostly in Italy, according to online records. For some reason, I always thought he was stationed in England, since he talked about visiting Scotland, where his mother was born, and never talked about being in Italy. But we never did talk about the war much. Maybe that’s what this blog post is really about — talking to your parents, asking questions about their lives — or being prepared to enjoy little mysteries when you go through their boxes of memories years later.

unidentified building with clock and what may be agricultural apparatus in front Alas, I also never thought to ask my father or uncle how they came to get together overseas, or exactly where these pictures were taken. Or maybe I did and just forgot the answers. I suspect the snapshot was sent home with others, including the artistic-looking faded sepia one of a building with a clock-window and weathervane. It is just identified as “a church” in a note on the back, and as the scene of my dad’s picture with “Rocky” — not an inconceivable nickname for uncle Lester, although not one I remember hearing. I wonder if his grandchildren and great-grandchildren ever hear of him being called that.

I don’t know what Lester’s military unit or rank was. Dad’s stripes had to do with working in an Army Air Force photo unit. I imagine the church photo is a snapshot he took. (The note on the back also says “I like this. And you?”)

Dad died of lung cancer 30 years ago last month and Lester passed away eight or nine years later. My father never talked much about his military service, but he still loved to take pictures — although he had no luck finding a photography job in his hometown after the war. Instead, he went back to the nightclub, hotel and restaurant work he had been doing in civilian life.

(His bar-tending experience is probably what “qualified” him for the photo lab training — mixing liquids, handling inventory, record-keeping and cash transactions, getting along with people under pressure. Making them laugh may not have been part of the military job-description, but I bet it helped. It kept him going in peacetime, too… including his college years, which started at age 43 — pretty unusual back then!)

Among other pix he left behind is one showing him in a flight jacket standing on the wing of an airplane, with a huge piece of camera equipment on his shoulder, maybe a camera used to take aerial mapping photos. And then there’s the humorous photo-shoot of him demonstrating <a href="; title="2003 blog post about dad's photo feature about incorrect saluting” target=”_blank”>how not to salute, which was published in the Kansas airbase magazine, Salvo, and which I’ve written about before.

Bob and Lester’s older brother, Norman, stayed home to take care of their mother — and became the first in the family to graduate from college and law school. I think their youngest brother, “K” (Clarence), was in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. Luckily, they all came home safely to Western Massachusetts, married and raised families. By the way, in case the youngest brother’s son or grandchildren see this, I understand his nickname was inspired by the tag-along kid-brother in the “Moon Mullins” newspaper comic strip, who was named “K.O.”

(Along with the Salvo reference, “Moon Mullins” helps me meet my old-newspaper-guy goal of having occasional references to newspapers and magazines in this blog, so that I don’t have to change its name.)

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Springtime Renewal


Perfect timing:

I just noticed that I had not reinstalled the WordPress app on my phone after a system crash last month, that I hadn’t added a post to this blog in two months, and that the sun was going down.

If you are seeing this, everything is working again, including the little share button that let me cross post this to Facebook and Twitter. Happy springtime!

Note: This Android WordPress app really does work quite nicely, even with the speech to text feature of the phone, which only required about 5 edits to fix all the typos… Mostly things like capitalizing the word Sun and misspelled in one of the two words in the headline, which I should have caught immediately.

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Klondike weather? Timely 100-year-old poetry


With the thermometer hitting record single digits here in Southwest Virginia, the weatherman threatening negative double-digits overnight, and a Facebook conversation getting me thinking of Robert W. Service, I went looking for my old LP  of Debby McClatchy singing a couple of his poems set to banjo tunes. (It’s “Lady Luck,” out of print, but she will sell you a copy at her website.)

Haven’t found a YouTube clip of her performing the poem, but stumbled on these instead. Light a fire and enjoy…

Johnny Cash – Cremation of Sam McGee:

And if that’s not enough irony for you, here’s a version by Hank (ahem) Snow..

And a dramatized reading, with plenty of Klondike atmosphere:

Want to read along? Here’s the text:


I also found a Project Gutenberg copy of the first tattered leather-bound 1909 collection of Robert Service poems I ever owned,
Ballads of a Cheechako.”.

It does not have Sam McGee, but it does have the “Ballad of Blasphemous Bill,” almost a sequel, which I recommend highly.

   I took a contract to bury the body of blasphemous Bill MacKie,
     Whenever, wherever or whatsoever the manner of death he die—
     Whether he die in the light o’ day or under the peak-faced moon;
     In cabin or dance-hall, camp or dive, mucklucks or patent shoon;
     On velvet tundra or virgin peak, by glacier, drift or draw;
     In muskeg hollow or canyon gloom, by avalanche, fang or claw;
     By battle, murder or sudden wealth, by pestilence, hooch or lead—
     I swore on the Book I would follow and look till I found my tombless dead.

The rest of Blasphemous Bill (text)

And … Hank Snow reciting The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill

Posted in Music, poetry, storytelling, weather, winter, youtube

February and Facebook

A confession: I’ve developed a Facebook habit and, with three other more-or-less active blogs, have neglected this one for months.

Facebook is especially good for sharing things and starting conversations with far-off family, friends, neighbors, or interest groups. For me, that includes old-time music, clawhammer banjo or ukulele enthusiasts, photographers, and patrons or fans of particular musicians, bands, venues or events.

If Facebook were a university, “Colorful sunset pix” and “Comparative winter weather” also would be top majors, sometimes passing “cats” and “babies.”

I’ve indulged in sunsets before, but here are selections from my sequential contribution to the winter genre:

After two snow-free winter months, we finally had an 8-10 inch storm on Feb.16, so I shot driveway pictures at two-hour intervals.

It was more fun than shoveling.



2:00 and 4:00

secondoffoursnowy driveway



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Being thankful for a Thanksgiving week cold that had me at home around sunset on Tuesday,  even if I did miss a Radford Pizza House jam session because of it…


Posted in Uncategorized


Why buy a house on top of a hill?


This is where I do my kind of cloud computing.

I would probably get more writing done if I lived at the bottom of the hill, or put the computer in a room without a window.

Posted in Uncategorized

Back to blogging

It has been nine years since I updated my “About Weblogs” backgrounder page, the first draft of which was a page on a now-defunct server for a class at Emerson College in 2000.

The blogging server where I maintained that page from 2002 to 2009 went out of business, so I moved the page to my frozen-in-time “oldblog” folder.

But blogging itself has not been frozen, and early blogger Dave Winer has suggested I update my definition, just as he did recently. Here’s Dave’s “I know what a blog is,” expanding on his “unedited voice of a person” definition.

Winer’s software “Manila” and “Radio Userland” were two of the early blog-publishing systems I used, along with Trellix and Blogger, after writing blog-style Web pages in plain HTML. To me, these “edit in your browser” programs, which automated the last-page-in date-stamped diary format, were the real definition of blogging a dozen years ago. Now, the same systems can be used to create other kinds of websites, which was the point of this WordPress “Not a Blog” demo I did for students a few years ago.

My old-time-radio friend Jimbo uses Blogger for sites that go far beyond traditional “blog posts” to become encyclopedic resources of a very special kind, like his “Vic & Sade” opus at

So if the software no longer defines “blogging,” what does?

Here’s what my AP Stylebook says:


Notice that it doesn’t mention whether a blog has one voice, many voices, or if it can be the collaborative/communal voice of writers and editors working together. The Stylebook seems mostly focused on the length (“short”) of published items and a “usually (but not always)” reverse-chronological diary-style entries. The “but not always” would have to be added to “short” too, in order to include the work of admitted bloggers like NYU professor Jay Rosen’s and some of my longer items, including this one — or my last exploration of a 1940s Superman adventure.

This new interest in “what is a blog?” arose after The New York Times announced that it is cutting back on the publications it referred to as blogs, as distinct from the items it calls “news” or “opinion columns.” The lines between are probably a blur to folks who only read the Times online.

I don’t see a clear “About Times Blogs” explanation of how edited or collaborative they were, although what the Times has been calling blogs have been in latest-item-on-top order, had associated RSS and Twitter feeds, and apparently had a less formal tone than stories or columns intended for the print edition of the newspaper. Was “this is not going to be in print” the main Times definition of “blog”? Maybe.

You can find what’s left of the Times blogs at or

For many readers, seeing a blog-like page format may imply that the named author has total control of the words and opinions on that page. At the same time, seeing a gothic “The New York Times” logo on the page (or a “” in the address) may imply that the contents were subject to some level of editing. Actually, readers would be well-served by an “about” page that explained all the things “editing” can mean today — from help defining an assignment to revision issues of focus, length, consistent style (The Times has its own Stylebook), fact-checking, and copy editing for grammar and spelling.

Even the most personal of op-edit opinion columns get some editing. You can be pretty sure a page one story has had many more levels. The Public Editor column helps readers sort out those oversight issues from time to time, but even there you will find both “columns” and “blog posts.”:

The difference? Her “about” panel is about frequency, not copy editing:

“Margaret Sullivan is the fifth public editor appointed by The New York Times. She writes about the Times and its journalism in a frequent blog – the Public Editor’s Journal — and in a twice-monthly print column in the Sunday Review section…”

For my own general definition, I’ll stick with being mushy and reporting the shifting usage of the word “blog.” Some sites that call themselves blogs appear to have more than one author, or at least editing help. Sometimes I wish I did. For my own blogs, I try to explain what I’m doing on a prominently linked “about” page.

Some blogs also may have internal rules about never changing an old post. I don’t have that rule here or at my book-in-progress blog about old-time radio’s dramatic portrayals of journalists, I revise; my About page says so. If I see a misspelling or broken link on something weeks old, I’ll fix it. If I make substantial changes — add more links or pictures or change my mind about something — I’ll add a note of some kind.

[Note: I rarely use the iPad WordPress app that I used to post the first draft of this item. I may come back to it to improve the formatting with a full-featured editor.]

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Posted in Blogging, Newspapers